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Brief History of Affordable Housing

Here is Ed Pinto in the WSJ discussing the failed history of affordable housing:

The second is much less well known but equally deadly: the central role in the recent real estate collapse that was played by the federal affordable housing policy created by Congress and implemented since the 1990s by HUD and banking regulators.

In 1991, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs was advised by community groups such as Acorn that "Lenders will respond to the most conservative standards unless [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] are aggressive and convincing in their efforts to expand historically narrow underwriting."

Congress made this advice the law of the land when it passed the inaptly named Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992 (GSE Act of 1992). This law imposed affordable housing mandates on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Thus, beginning in 1993, regulators started to abandon the common sense underwriting principles of adequate down payments, good credit, and an ability to handle the mortgage debt. Substituted were liberalized lending standards that led to an unprecedented number of no down payment, minimal down payment and other weak loans, and a housing finance system ill-prepared to absorb the shock of declining prices.

In 1995, HUD announced a National Homeownership Strategy built upon the liberalization of underwriting standards nationally. It entered into a partnership with most of the private mortgage industry, announcing that "Lending institutions, secondary market investors, mortgage insurers, and other members of the partnership [including Countrywide] should work collaboratively to reduce homebuyer downpayment requirements."

The upshot? In 1990, one in 200 home purchase loans (all government insured) had a down payment of less than or equal to 3%. By 2006 an estimated 30% of all home buyers put no money down.

"[T]he financial crisis was triggered by a reckless departure from tried and true, common-sense loan underwriting practices," Sheila Bair, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, noted this June. One needs to look no further than HUD's affordable housing policies for the source of this "reckless departure." If the mortgage finance industry hadn't been forced to abandon traditional underwriting standards on behalf of an affordable housing policy, the mortgage meltdown and taxpayer bailouts would not have occurred.

Compounding HUD's forced abandonment of underwriting standards was a not-unrelated move to increased leverage by financial institutions and securities issuers. They were endeavoring to compete with Fannie and Freddie's minimal capital requirements. The GSEs only needed $900 in capital behind a $200,000 mortgage—many of which had no borrower down payment. Lack of skin in the game promoted systemic risk on both Main Street and Wall Street.

Read the whole piece here.

Anthony Randazzo is Director of Economic Research


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